Story of the Month: The Quest for the Stereo and the Spirit of the 90s

StoryoftheMonth

It’s strange that the 90s still feel “new” to me. The early 2000s feel passé and ancient. Things about the 90s still stick with me and despite the “convenience” of new technology I miss some of the aspects of “inconvenience” of my teenage years. Columbia Record Clubs, VHS and DVD rentals, Magazine research…it’s all stuff that, though it may still exist, isn’t a main part of the culture anymore… My first CDs came from Columbia record Club! And I could only play them in my Sega CD….through a mono-TV.

Thinking of this reminded me of buying my first stereo. It was 1997. I’d had them given as gifts before, Christmas and Birthday presents. The one that I was replacing was indeed a birthday present from my 15th Birthday. It was a TWO disc changer. And it seemed so cool. It had two trays on the top and they would swap places when the discs were changed (I knew so little I once tried to put my Full Throttle PC-CDROM into it to play the great Gone Jackals soundtrack… It didn’t work… But I DID get that soundtrack…from Columbia House!). The stereo started to skip and the changing mechanism didn’t work. I’d saved up some money and went to get myself a brand new stereo. We started out early, about 10 AM. I was kind of excited.

In the 90s, in my area, there were only a few places to go. Circuit City, H.H. Gregg, and Media Play. I usually went to Circuit City, but I remember H.H. Gregg had a sale on them so my mom drove me there. I picked out an AMAZING 5 disc changer. Brought it home, hooked it up, ran my TV and video games systems through it. Connected my parents’ old MASSIVE JBL speakers…and it didn’t work. I tried repeatedly and it didn’t work. So we took it back. H.H. Gregg said they would only offer to fix it, we explained it was a BRAND NEW item and they reluctantly let us exchange it. Unfortunately they didn’t have the one I bought so I downgraded to a three-disc changer, OK with the savings in money, and brought it home. I went through the rigmarole of hooking it back up and…guess what… It didn’t work. Acted like there was no CD in the tray. So we boxed it up and brought it back. The store manger came out and didn’t believe us that it didn’t work. I remember he went in the back and came out with a CD on his finger. He put it in, pressed play, and….it didn’t work. He said “It’s like it’s not reading the CD at all…” My mom, if I recall, responded “No shit.” We got my money back and went to Circuit City.

Old Circuit City buildings had these cool entrances with red-plastic floors covered in circles. it felt like something out of Total Recall. Shopping here was like being in a sci-fi movie…

I felt more comfortable here. We’d purchased PCs from here before with 2 year warranties. Typically when they died after 18 months or so we’d activate the warranty and they’d replace the PC with one that cost the same NOW as the one we got THEN. It means essentially a free-upgrade system if the PC went bad. They quit doing that after a few years.

I found a nice Philips 5 disc changer and took it home. I quit hooking up all my stuff to it and took to just opening the box, plugging it into to the nearest outlet and trying it. I plugged it in. The CD played! I changed discs…and…the mechanism sounded like a pepper mill and it just sat there. We tried it again and…nope. No disc-changing. By this time it was after 3PM. It had been all day. We boxed it up, took it back, and I remember distinctly the woman and man salespeople saying, “Oh I’m sorry… I can’t believe it… Luckily this is Circuit City!” They gave us another one and we took it and went home.

It didn’t even get all the way out of the box. I pulled it out and noticed the back of it looked like it had been kicked in. We just looked despairingly at it and shrugged. I remember saying, “Screw it if it works I don’t care.” It didn’t. It didn’t even power on.

So we took it back…it was after 5PM. Walking back to the stereo section the two salespeople were standing there chatting and I remember the woman turned and saw us, looking stunned she said, “Oh you’re kidding…” I explained it looked like it someone had used it for batting practice and she said, “That’s our shipping…it’s just a box to them.”

Of course they didn’t have the one I picked out. I went to the deep end. I found an amazing-looking Sony 50-disc CD changer. It was 200 more than I planned to spend but I had it. After much consideration I bought it… Took it home…took it out of the box….and…glory be. It worked! It sounded amazing.  in fact it STILL works. It STILL sounds amazing. It as surround sound ports built in. If I want it will play all 50 discs loaded one after another.  It evens started my love affair with Sony products…in all the years I’ve bought them I’ve never had a bad one…

It's an MHC-F100.  Aftermoving it to and from college for four years, from room-to-room, furniture-to-furniture...it's still busting it old school.
It’s an MHC-F100. Aftermoving it to and from college for four years, from room-to-room, furniture-to-furniture…it’s still busting it old school.

Yes portable music, iTunes, Bose, have all changed the way we play music, but that experience plus the quality and awesomeness of this system still sum it up for me. Nothing sounds better than a CD…and it sounds all the sweeter knowing the system I found at the end of that capitalist-consumer quest is still alive and kicking. A bit like the spirit of the 90s to me.

Salute Your Shorts: Revisited

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Do you know the words?

We run, we jump, we swim, and play.

We row and go on trips.

But the things that last forever

are our dear friendships…

If you kept singing or know the song, you must have grown up in the 90s. That’s the opening verse to Salute Your Shorts, the show about a group of kids at summer camp.

When I was younger, I liked the show a lot, but I liked Are You Afraid of the Dark and Clarissa Explains It All more. I couldn’t really relate to any of the characters on SYS, and I hated the one time I went to summer camp. I still think summer camp is overrated.

As an adult, I realize I miss 90s TV shows. I miss the simplicity, the minor drama, the awkwardness. Today, shows try to do too much or get way too serious. At 12, I didn’t want to hear about 15-year-olds agonizing about sex, and I still don’t.

Salute Your Shorts was simple. Each episode had a situation or conflict, and it was resolved by the end. In 24 minutes or less. So, here are some of my observations (old and new) after watching two volumes:

1. Bobby Budnick still reminds me of Axl Rose. Every time I see Budnick, I think I bet that’s what Axl Rose was like when he was 13 – smart, cunning, mean, and a natural leader.

2. I really dislike Dina Alexander. I never even thought she was cute. She was a terrible, terrible person, and I did not understand how anyone would want to even be in the same room with her. Had I been in her bunk, I would have hung her on the flagpole.

3. Most of the characters still irritate me. The only character I relate to now is Z.Z, the nerdy tree-hugger type, so I’m not sure what that says about me as an adult.

4. The show holds up, but it’s nostalgia that keeps it going. Would it survive if it aired now? No. There’s not enough drama and fighting; there were no tears. It was just kids doing kids things and solving their own problems without it being Earth shattering.

5. I can still sing the opening song word for word. And I’ll admit something to all our great readers out there: Until two weeks ago, I thought the song said “… are our dear friend Chips.” Yes, chips. It didn’t make any sense at the time, but I never tried to figure it out. Two weeks ago, when I heard it again, I said … “OH….” and laughed and laughed. And felt really dumb.

I encourage anyone who enjoyed Nick’s 90s era to revisit Salute Your Shorts. Amazon has two volumes for $6 each, and it’s worth it just to relive a time where things weren’t so dependent on technology and dramatic. If you want to learn what made us late 20-somethings and 30-somethings who we are today, watch the old Nick shows.

For extra fun, here’s a video from a “scary” episode. It still creeps me out a little…

Urban Legend: Great 90s Teen Horror

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Maybe it’s age or the fact that being younger is most times easier, but I kind of miss the 90s. A good friend said recently that people were happier in the 90s, and looking back, I have to agree. Even as miserable as adults seemed back then, they didn’t seem as stressed out or tired.

With that said, I’ve subconsciously sunk into a 90s kick. First, it was Are You Afraid of the Dark, now it’s Clarissa Explains It All (review coming later), and tonight as I flipped channels, Urban Legend on TV. And this week’s post was decided.

Urban Legend (1998) is 90s teen horror at its finest. The writing, cast, soundtrack – this movie had it all. A serial killer knocks off teens based on urban legends, and every stereotype you can imagine is in this movie. There’s the douchey popular guy, the final girl, the college newspaper writer, etc. – even Robert Englund plays a professor! It may be my favorite teen horror movie.

Here are my top five reasons I love Urban Legend: (Contains Spoilers)

1. The killer: If you grew up in the 90s, you know the Noxzema chick, Rebecca Gayheart. That commercial was on all the time, and she was a classic 90s teen icon. Her big eyes and fluffy hair were almost unforgettable, especially when she went psycho crazy in the movie.

2. The writing: For a teen horror movie, the script is pretty well written, and there aren’t many bad one liners. When it is bad, it’s supposed to be. It never takes itself too seriously. My favorite line, “Don’t you want to be an urban legend? All your friends are now.”

3. Jared Leto: Any ladies around my age know what I’m talking about.

4. The soundtrack: I just noticed the soundtrack tonight as I listened to the movie. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stabbing Westward, The Crystal Method, Rob Zombie, all signature 90s artists.

5. The kills: There’s blood, guts, and a lot of screaming. Because the kills are based on urban legends, it’s more entertaining than your traditional slasher movie. For example, there’s the girl who gets axed in her car, the guy who drinks Draino, and the date who gets hanged in the tree. I remember watching the guy on stage drink Poprocks and Coke, and I almost died. Sadly, he didn’t.

I admit I haven’t seen the sequels, so if you have any thoughts about them or recommend them, let us know! And for fun, check out the old Noxzema commercial 🙂

The 90s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Movie

I don’t know when and where I first heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I do know I joined the majority of my generation in becoming obsessed with all things mean, lean, and green for the better part of four years.  I’ve always loved turtles, I wanted to keep a giant water turtle that I found outside my house when I was about 8 and my sister and I used to make paper bowl turtle toys (turn the bowl over, make it paper feet and head, color it!) at my grandmother’s house, so when a cartoon about anthropomorphic turtles came out it must have felt like a perfect fit.

The Ninja Turtles movie was the first film I remember being truly excited about.  There had been The Land before Time when I was even younger, Ghostbusters II, and Batman the year before, but Ninja Turtles ramped up to be the event of my youth.  I remember TONS of pre-release promotional material I collected, including the awesome poster (Lean, Mean, and on the Screen!) that hung on my green-painted wall for years.  And yes it was painted green because of my TMNT love…

Despite all of this I don’t remember having any expectations for the film.  I didn’t expect it to be a continuation of the cartoon, or the re-telling of the show in live-action format.  I may have been too young for such concepts.  I was expecting to see live-action Ninja Turtles and that’s just what I got.

For me, this movie was the perfect introduction to the 1990s.  Though it was made in the late 80s and based on an 80s cartoon, the film is far more 90s than 80s.  The costumes, from April’s street gear and Danny’s slacker outfit, looks like 90s clothes, even Shredder’s MC Hammer red jump suit (complete with giant, square shoulders) looks more like early 90s than late 80s.  The musical score, with a killer synth theme, didn’t have the distinctive “Final Countdown” sound that marred synth in the 80s.  In fact this is the first movie I can recall that heavily featured rap music, not just as a soundtrack item (though there was an awesome credit scroll rap track that still gets stuck in my head…) but in the background as what was on the radio that we, the kids seeing the movie, were listening to.

This song plays right after “Cowabunga!” at the end of the film.  It still plays periodically in my mental soundtrack…

I recently rewatched the film and, objectively, I can say it was a fantastic herald for the decade and is still a terrific movie.  While some might consider the background dated, to me it speaks so clearly of the time it was made and it never detracts from its effectiveness.  Yeah the foot soldiers steal 10-inch tube TVs and VCRs but in 1990 something like that would have been a kind of luxury item.  As well as something a ninja could conceivably flee on foot carrying.

Even the turtles themselves, essentially man-sized muppet outfits, are surprisingly emotional.  You believe their animatronic faces.  This is aided by the voice acting, which, in most cases (Raph’s Brooklyn accent being the outlier) came close to matching what we were used to hearing on the cartoon show.  Even Splinter’s voice became the model used for later TMNT features…though never close to as well…

The action sequences are remarkable, which is surprising as the stunt guys are wearing massive foam-rubber suits and I attribute THIS movie to sparking my interest in martial arts, which extends to this day (not the cartoon, which I’ve also seen recently and it has very little fighting I’ve realized!)

The non-turtle actors led by Judith Hoag, the best live-action April, and Elias Koteas, the quintessential Casey Jones, never seem out of place or make the very weird subject matter seem as odd as it is.  They play it believable so you believe them.  They are enhanced by a score of excellent secondary characters, Danny, Charles Pennington (April’s Boss), Tatsu (one of my favorites, “Ninja! Vanish!”), and an incredible live action Shredder.

It doesn’t just “hold up” as a good movie, it actually is a good movie.  It never has a dated cringe-worthy moment that references some long-lost, time-stamped, disposable concept.  In many ways the humor and references are more like Looney Tunes, in that they have a timeless feel or harken back to already-established icons, such as the old-school surfing terms, Three Stooges, Rocky, or the famous James Cagney “you dirty rat” misquote.

I wonder if newer generations of kind can appreciate this film for what it is. Or if music-video-style film making, flashing light imagery, and over-shiny CGI has altered the fundamental image of what an action movie should be.  To me, this is the Raiders of the Lost Ark of cartoon pop culture, a great marriage of subject, style, and execution.  And, to me, a memorable way to open the decade.

Interesting to note, this is the official trailer from the film, I actually remember seeing scenes from it, but the voices were not the same as the finished film.  Nearly every “masked” character has a different voice in the theatrical release!

Coming Soon: The 90s in Review!!

Ah the 90s… I will always consider myself a child of the 80s…but I was a teenager of the 90s. So while some of my favorite childhood memories are deeply rooted in the kid-culture of the 1980s, my adolescent memories are more firmly based in the bedrock of the 1990s.

There has been a fair share of 80s and 90s nostalgia in the last few years and the people of my generation reach adulthood and look back longingly and the culture we grew up in. From VH1’s I Love the 90s and Nickleodeon’s 90’s Were All That, the 1990s have had a resurgence in the last few years. I personally both love and cringe at the glory that was the 1980s and 1990s and became excited to share my personal favorite and LEAST favorite things about the second second decade I experienced.

My insightful RevPub colleague unintentionally got this ball rolling with her Clueless post, and I got to thinking about all of the great things the 1990s gave us. We’ll be discussing TV, movies, music, general culture from the era, and hopefully will be able to reach the rest of our generation in celebrating the decade that gave us the fall of MC Hammer, the creation of the first-person shooter, the re-rise of the boy band, the horrible innovation of reality TV, and the tragic end of music on “music television.”

These, like previous posts, won’t be broad history lessons but personal memories of the 90s. So enjoy, we all have different perspectives and will remember distinct memories of where we were the first time we saw DVDs, Rap Metal, or 3D Graphics!

PS: I planned to have a nice snazz-graphic ready for this post…unfortunately my wonderful Vaio went into cardiac arrest on the morning of 2/19 and is no longer with us.  New PC arrives Thursday…  Hopefully snazz-graphic will be ready by the first 90s post next week, a look at how the 90s started for me: A review of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie!